We've already looked at the top five quarterbacks, cornerbacks and running backs in the Pac-12. We continue our series with a look at the top five linebackers.
1. Travis Long, Washington State
2011 stats: 42 tackles, 4 sacks, 12 tackles for loss.
Long plays with a non-stop motor and an edge. He had a season-high eight tackles (six solo), two for loss, a forced fumble and blocked a field goal attempt in a win at Colorado last season. Interchangeable between DE and OLB, he projects at the latter at the NFL level. Long was arrested on July 20 on suspicion of possession of alcohol as a minor. There will likely be some form of punishment for that incident, but coach Mike Leach hasn’t revealed the details yet.
2. Dion Bailey, USC
2011 stats: 81 tackles, two sacks, two pass deflections, 2 INTs, forced fumble.
One of the best ball-hawks in the country, Bailey is always willing sacrifice his body to make the pick. He also does a nice job reading and reacting to both the pass and run. He was named the 2011 Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year and made the All-Pac-12 second team. If he stays on that curve, he could become the Pac-12’s best linebacker.
3. Shayne Skov, Stanford
2011 stats: 19 tackles, 1½ sacks, 5 TFLs (3 games).
Skov sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week Three at Arizona, but he has been cleared to practice when the team opens training camp. The question on everyone’s lips is: Has he lost a step? If not, Skov will anchor the middle and Stanford’s defense may not miss a beat. Skov will sit out the opener against San Jose State as part of his punishment for a DUI citation last winter. Coach David Shaw said he is expected to play in the second game against Duke.
4. Chase Thomas, Stanford
2011 stats: 52 tackles, 8½ sacks, 17½ TFLs, 5 forced fumbles.
One of the top outside linebackers in the nation heading into the 2012 season, Thomas earned first team All-Pac-12 and Sporting News All-America honors last season. Thomas is versatile enough to move around the line of scrimmage and quick enough to elude blockers and chase down the quarterback. But Cardinal fans love him most for his hustle.
5. Brandon Magee, Arizona State
2010 stats: 73 tackles, 1½ sacks, 5 TFLs.
Magee missed the entire 2011 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. In 2010, then-defensive coordinator Craig Bray called him the best player on the defensive unit, overshadowing highly hyped middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Magee is smart, fast, rangy and has intangible leadership skills that ASU desperately missed last season when it dropped its final five games. For that reason, he’ll likely move inside and call plays. Magee has already signed a contract to play for the Boston Red Sox after he finishes this football season, but he’ll have an eye on the NFL Draft. If he goes high enough, baseball will have to wait.
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